Simple robots show how common goals result in coordinated behavior
Many animals move together in groups called herds, flocks, or schools. Though much of this behavior is attributable to social interaction between individuals in the group, some coordination may result from asocial interactions. Here we test a simple hypothesis: if individuals share a common goal, they do not need to be aware of other nearby individuals. We built fish-like robots that could not detect each other, but did share a common goal (orienting toward and approaching a light), analogous to swimming toward a food source. During experiments, robots swam in groups of different size and with different degrees of randomness introduced into their light seeking behavior. We found that regardless of the size of the group, the robots swam together in a coordinated way when they shared a common goal, even though they couldn’t see each other. Our data suggest that coordinated group behavior does not require social sensing.